Honor killings and execution of adulterers in Islam

Salam. I grew up in Europe so I didn’t study Islam in a Muslim country so I haven’t been provided with the full version. However my cousin did in my motherland (Arab) and when we discuss islam with eachother it’s is so different, her views are more cruel in a way. For instance she said that honour killing is part of the deen because a woman’s wali has the right to kill her if she brings shame but I didn’t learn Islam that way. I was taught a more peaceful version. I wonder which one is true?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no such thing as honor killings in Islam. In Islamic law, an honor killing is murder and the person who does it is a murderer. A person can only be punished for a sexual crime only after trial.

It is true that many Muslim clerics have been complicit in honor killings, since they do not speak strongly against it and even tolerate it.

It is also true that many Muslims believe that a married person convicted of adultery should be executed, although in practice this has almost never been performed by Shariah courts, since the requirements for proving adultery are extremely stringent (four witnesses must have seen the sexual act taking place). Jonathan Brown mentions in his book Misquoting Muhammad that scholars have at times preferred to be exiled instead of signing the order for executing (stoning) adulterers.

The issue of advocating for executing adulterers is caused by most scholars preferring the less reliable evidence of hadith over the principles of the Quran, and the issue is not limited to executing adulterers. As an example, the Quran says that “There is no compulsion in religion” (The Quran, verse 2:256), yet most scholars support punishing people who leave Islam (sometimes by execution!), which as anyone with a tiny bit of common sense can see, is utterly hypocritical. Forcing people to stay Muslim is as much compulsion as forcing them to become Muslim. The Quran is clear on this matter, there must not be compulsion in religion, people must be free what religion they practice. Scholars, however, ignore this clear principle of the Quran and give preference to hadith, in this way justifying forcing people to stay Muslim.

Any Muslim who says Islam believes in religious freedom, but does not admit that the Quran’s principles are superior to hadith, probably does not know what they are talking about. The classical (and Salafi) Islamic view does not guarantee religious freedom, it forces people to stay Muslim against their own will.

Regarding adultery, using the evidence of the Quran and Islamic history, the great Egyptian Islamic scholar Abu Zahra, who was an expert on Islamic law, concluded that adulterers are not executed in Islam and presented his evidence at an Islamic conference in 1972, which immediately caused an uproar among the scholars, since he dared to give preference to the Quran over hadith. Salafis and classical scholars cannot accept Abu Zahra’s view because they refuse to acknowledge the superiority of the Quran over hadith. For a discussion of this serious problem within Islam and its solution see my essay Quran-Focused Islam: A Rationalist, Always-Modern and Orthodox Alternative to Salafism.

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